In Conversation with Susan Sontag: Art Through Metaphor

“Being intelligent isn’t, for me, like doing something ‘better.’ It’s the only way I exist…. I know I’m afraid of passivity (and dependence). Using my mind, something makes me feel active (autonomous). That’s good.”

–Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh

Susan Sontag viewed the world as metaphors. In her 12-hour Rolling Stone interview with Jonathan Cott, she discusses how gender, sexuality, love, illness, photography, and art could (or could not) be metaphors to which her self-proclaimed credo attests: “Thinking is a form of feeling; feeling is a form of thinking.” She was an ardent thinker, believing that the metaphors we process need perpetual purification, “so that you’re unclogging your thought, letting in air, and opening things out.”

A lifelong essayist and writer, Sontag began reading when she was three. The first novel that made her sob and wail was Les Misérables, one of the many European novels available on her parents’ bookshelf. Since then, her interests in art proliferated to include paintings, philosophy, and photography, from which she drew many of her reflections. Her interpretation of art was timeless. Sontag hinted at the paradoxical nature of photography: in itself it is a complete work of art, but in relation to the passage of time, it is a fragment of what is left to us of the past.

(Sontag on fragmentation and linearity in art and photography, original recording)

Cott and Sontag then conversed about the culture of “reading” a photograph, using a literary expression to discuss a visual phenomenon.

(Sontag on the cultures of photographic interpretation, original recording)

Sontag further claimed that one must rely on metaphors to talk of styles of art; however, she cautioned about the limits to which they should be exercised.

(Sontag on her appeals to and the purification of metaphors, original recording)

The entire transcript of Sontag’s remarkable conversation, accompanied by Cott’s preface and recollections, is available to the public in Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview.

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